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Steve Bucci, author of Steve Carlton book 'Drinking Coffee With a Fork' talks with Philly2Philly

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From high school football to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Steve Bucci has covered it all. The Emmy Award-winning anchor/reporter/author has accomplished quite a bit during his 20-plus years in broadcast journalism. In his latest book, “Drinking Coffee With a Fork,”  Steve recalls one of the greatest pitching seasons in the history of Major League Baseball: Steve Carlton’s Cy Young Award winning season for the 1972 Philadelphia Phillies.  

Philly2Philly caught up with Steve just prior to the start of the playoffs, and he offered his insight on his book as well as this era of Phillies aces.

Joe Vallee: The Phillies have had quite a few memorable seasons in our lifetime. Aside from how great Carlton’s season was in 1972, how did you and (co-author) Dave Brown come to the decision to focus on this season when putting ideas together for the book?In “Drinking Coffee With a Fork,”  Steve Bucci recalls one of the greatest pitching seasons in the history of Major League Baseball: Steve Carlton’s Cy Young Award winning season for the 1972 Philadelphia Phillies.

Steve Bucci: I've always been intriqued by what he was able to accomplish that season. It seems impossible that one pitcher could earn 46 per cent of his team's victories. I also felt that his achievements in '72 have gone largely overlooked through the passage of time.I don't think the average fan realizes what he was able to do and how remarkable it was.

JV: You were a young guy back in 1972. Did you attend any of the games Carlton pitched that year? And did any recollections come to mind when writing the book?

SB:  No. But what was interesting was seeing the names and results from that era---Mays, Aaron, etc. and some of the more obscure players like Nate Colbert, and Ralph Garr and others that made you say, remember him, I loved him.

JV: You’re quite the baseball guy. Was there anything you uncovered while putting the book together that you didn’t know regarding Carlton and that 1972 season?

SB: I didn't realize that he was 5-6 at one point that season. Which I suppose is not surprising given how bad that team was, but it also makes his final record of 27-10 all the more amazing.

JV: What do you think it was about that team that inspired them to step up every fourth day to play the way they did when Lefty took the mound?

SB: It was Lefty. He was able to elevate the players around him. He almost willed them to play better. It was his personality, his aura, his positive attitude. Larry Bowa told me that, while you never wanted to make a mistake, you were really on your toes when Lefty was pitching that year.

JV: Something else I find really interesting is that 1972 was probably the first time Carlton was recognized as a bona fide number one starter in the majors.  Even though he won 20 games in 1971 and won more games than Bob Gibson on several occasions during their time in St. Louis, it’s hard to imagine Steve Carlton being a number two starter on ANY team he ever played on isn’t it?

SB: That was a factor in his success that year. He felt that he was able to get in a consistent rhythm. But, honestly no one expected him to do what he did in '72. He was not yet "Lefty," he was a guy with good stuff who once struck out 19 batters in a game, but not many people thought he would become the guy he ultimately became. '72 was when it all started.

JV: What really blows me away is that Carlton had 30 complete games in 1972. The most Roy Halladay has ever had in a season is 9. It kind of puts things in perspective as far as how great his season really was.

SB: Yeah, that's a career for most pitchers. And some of those CGs, were 10 and 11 innings! Shows you how much the game has changed.

JV: In your opinion, Is he the greatest Phillies pitcher ever?

SB: In my opinion he is. (Robin) Roberts and (Grover Cleveland) Alexander's places in history are secure, but Carlton gets my vote, because of the Cy Young awards and the '80 championship of which he was a cornerstone. I also think he's underrated in comparison to other Hall of Fame pitchers, if a HOF player can be underrated.

JV: Maybe it’s just me, but even though Carlton won 329 games in his career, it seems to me that he is overlooked every time baseball’s greatest left handers are discussed. Why do you think that is?Steve Bucci photo: www.ucpphila.org

SB: Some of that may have to do with his relationship with the media.

JV: What people don’t realize is that he might have had a chance to win 30 games that year if it weren’t for the abbreviated strike at the start of the year. How much do you think that hindered his chances?

SB: Well, the season was shortened by six games, so that's 1, possibly 2 starts. I think he feels as though he would've had a better shot.

JV: Since Carlton’s 27-win season, only Bob Welch matched his single season win total of 27 in 1990 with the A’s, and that was 21 years ago. Do you think you will ever see a pitcher win 27 games in the majors again?

SB: I don't think you'll see a pitcher with 27 wins. Verlander was close this season, but in a five man rotation, it's awfully difficult. And as we've pointed out, pitchers don't complete games, too often you're leaving it in the hands of your bullpen which can be risky.

JV: Those 1970’s-early 1980’s Phillies teams were pretty well rounded, but it seems their staff consisted of Carlton and a revolving door of starters who would step up and have a solid season, or at times even a career season. In 1976, it was Jim Lonborg who notched 18 wins, Larry Christenson had a career high 19 wins the next year, Dick Ruthven won 17 games in 1980, and John Denny actually had better numbers than Carlton in 1983 in his Cy Young season. The 1993 staff was pretty good, but the 2011 staff has to the best all-around staff in the history of the club. Which one of the Phillies’ current starters reminds you the most of Lefty?

SB:
Due to injury, Lonborg was never again the guy he was in '67, and Ruthven and Christenson aren't in the same class with these guys. Halladay, probably because of his work ethic. He's a fitness fanatic just like Carlton. Carlton's workouts were more unconventional, but Halladay's focus and intensity are cut from the Carlton mold.

JV: Eventually, all those innings took its toll on Lefty. Even when he won his third Cy Young Award in 1980, it was obvious he was running out of gas in the post season. Do you worry at all that this may happen to the Phillies’ starters in the playoffs in 2011?

SB: The inning totals don't concern me. They looked sharp in their final tuneups, and the adrenaline rush of the playoffs supercedes any tinge of fatigue.

JV: And last but not least, as the playoffs begin, how far do you see this current Phillies team going?

SB: If their starting pitchers do what they normally do, and the bullpen comes thru, I like the Phillies’ chances.

You can find "Drinking Coffee With a Fork" in all book stores as well as Amazon and Camino Books.com

Read Steve Bucci's work on Philadelphia Sports Daily

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Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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